48th session of the Human Rights Council
Side event - Human rights in older age: Towards the elimination of ageism and age discrimination


21 September 2021

Statement by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

21 September 2021


I am pleased to join you in this timely and crucial discussion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered many weaknesses of our societies, bringing to the fore the need to correct the damage that is inflicted on all of us by structural inequalities and discrimination.

It has also shone light on issues that have long been denied or neglected – such as ageism.

The recent UN Global Report on Ageism has found that one in two people has prejudices against older people.

Ageism is so pervasive in our society that it goes largely unrecognized and unchallenged.

It remains one of the major barriers to the full enjoyment by older persons of their human rights.

Ageism, and the resulting age-discrimination, have serious and far-reaching consequences for health, well-being, dignity and rights – above all, for older people, but with negative impacts that extend across all of society.

Ageist stereotyping is all around us. For example, older people are often portrayed as uniformly frail and vulnerable.

But in reality the older population is an incredibly diverse group – perhaps the most diverse of all age groups. Older people frequently make irreplaceable contributions to their families and communities, as workers, caregivers, volunteers and community leaders.

They are bold, wise and creative, with deep knowledge of our societies – and are often powerfully committed to addressing injustice.

To combat ageism, we must shift our mindsets and challenge the narrative of older people as frail, dependent and vulnerable.

Their voices, perspectives, and expertise need to be incorporated in policymaking, particularly where they will be most affected.

We also need to strengthen accountability for older people when their rights are violated.

Considering the pervasiveness of ageism, and our rapidly ageing populations, it is striking that under the current international human rights framework there is no explicit guarantee against being subjected to ageist discrimination.

There is also no explicit obligation for States to take active measures to eliminate ageism and its discriminatory consequences.

This is a very significant gap in the international human rights framework, and it needs to be addressed.

There should be a human rights treaty specifically focused on the rights of older people.

As part of a strengthened international protection framework, we need a clear, tailored definition of what equality and non-discrimination on the basis of older age mean.

The Independent Expert's report to this Council session provides very useful analysis and policy recommendations in this respect.

The UN Global Report on Ageism provides new evidence of the scale of ageism and the damages it inflicts. It makes clear that more work is needed to understand the roots of ageism and effective strategies to address it – and the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing, which begins this year, is the perfect opportunity to get this work done.


More inclusive, equitable and age-friendly societies will be more resilient, sustainable, secure and fair.

We need to strengthen our efforts, including under the Council, to advance older people's rights.

I look forward to your thoughts.

Thank you.